SXSW Review: Demolition

Score: B-

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper

Running Time:  100 Minutes

Rated: R


It has been a great couple of years for director Jean-Marc Vallee thanks to his involvement with Oscar nominated films Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Demolition, his newest film, brings a more deconstructed approach, aided by the enigmatic Jake Gyllenhaal, who has been on quite the successful run himself, most notably his transcendental performance in Nightcrawler.


In Demolition, Gyllenhaal shines as Davis Mitchell, a recent widow whose life is on the verge of destruction. The film begs the question, what does it take to wake up the soul? For Davis, it took a horrible tragedy to make him feel again.


In lieu of tears and sappy heartbreak Jean Marc Vallee brings a refreshing take on loss and how those affected deal with the aftermath. It’s interesting to watch Davis go OCD rather than flounder in despair. His eureka moment comes after he encounters a defective vending machine in the hospital where his wife has died. Via therapeutic letters to the vending machine company, Davis crosses paths with Karen (Naomi Watts), who serves as the customer service rep for the vending company. Much like Davis, Karen has a life full of problems, most notably her son Chris (Judah Lewis) who is screaming for attention. This serendipitous connection propels Davis to deal with his loss and rebuild his new life in the only he knows how, quitting his high profile job as an investment banker under his father in law Phil (Chris Cooper) and transforming himself into the next Tim “The Toolman” Taylor ala Home Improvement.


Vallee has a keen ear for music, it elevates his films; the power ballad rock anthems such as “Crazy On You” culminate certain scenes so well, ending flawlessly in beautiful crescendo. I was waiting on Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” to show up during a few of the destructive therapy sessions, but maybe it would have been too cookie-cutter-ish to take seriously. Still, it’s fun to think about.


Demolition is very unconventional for a drama; it deconstructs the typical fanfare and replaces it with sharp wit and idiosyncrasies. Something that serves unconventional actors very well, such as the Gyllenhaal’s of the world, a chameleon when it comes to the roles he chooses. His interpretation of Davis is no different, as he brings a bohemian approach to a tried and true genre. His word vomit of honesty reminds me of a realistic version of Jim Carrey’s Fletcher Reede from Liar Liar. Not to be forgotten is the essential role Watts brings to the film; she is the calming friend and outlet that Davis never had. Without her, Davis would implode.


I applaud the film for not linking Karen and Davis romantically. They rely on each other but in a strictly plutonic way, something that doesn’t happen very often in dramatic comedies. That speaks volumes to Sipe’s writing and the thought put into the characters relying on the complexities of the human condition rather than on boring architypes.


Demolition is all about perspective. It knocks down the barriers associated with grief and reconstructs it into a spiritual experience. However, this does come with a caveat; the script follows the lead of its characters and unravels a bit itself. Its convoluted third act almost ruins this experience, but luckily, Gyllenhaal’s performance carries a substantial amount of weight and keeps the film from falling flat on its face. Demolition is a very compelling film and offers a fairly realistic look at a man drowning in his own misery only to be swept up and awoken from his slumber.


About Matt Kerwin

Matt Kerwin

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